Drug Policy

Will They Eventually Start Spraying Peruvian Asparagus with Paraquat?

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Over at Stop the Drug War, Scott Morgan blogs about one victory in the generally luckless (and damnably destructive) War on Drugs: the near-eradication of the American asparagus industry. Some details, via a Seattle Times story:

The [U.S. asparagus] industry has been decimated by a U.S. drug policy designed to encourage Peruvian coca-leaf growers to switch to asparagus. Passed in 1990 and since renewed, the Andean Trade Preferences and Drugs Eradication Act permits certain products from Peru and Colombia, including asparagus, to be imported to the United States tariff-free….

Meanwhile, the Washington [state] industry is a shadow of its former self. Acreage has been cut by 71 percent to just 9,000 acres.

Scott Morgan adds:

Notwithstanding divergent views on free trade among our readership, I'm sure we can all agree that tariffs shouldn't be arbitrarily lifted in support of a failed drug war policy in Peru. Any success achieved in South America (there hasn't been any, but bear with me) must be measured against the sacrifices American farmers are forced against their will to make. Factoring this against ONDCP's otherwise already pathetic claims of progress leaves a worse taste in one's mouth than that of canned asparagus.

Whole thing here.

The readership at Hit & Run is, of course, far more favorable to free trade than STDW's may be. And it's always a good thing to slip free of a tariff. But the main point of Morgan's post–the law of unintended consequences is particularly strong when it comes to prohibition–is tough to miss. As is the truth of his insistence that the folks calling the shots in the drug war are idiots.

Headline explanation here.

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  1. “Meanwhile, the Washington [state] industry is a shadow of its former self. Acreage has been cut by 71 percent to just 9,000 acres.”

    Please feel free to apply whatever herbicide you choose to those 9,000 acres in Washington state as well.

    Asparagus! Gaahh! Hate the stuff.

  2. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just put US farmers out of business via free trade without the drugwar being involved or other strings attached? And is this freetrade? Are the Peruvian asparagus farmers being subsidized to grow it rather than the sacred coca plant?

  3. Mr Morgan has it precisely backwards.

    All tariffs are harmful, and any excuse to lift one, even the BS Drug War, is sufficient.

    The tariffs were benefitting a few asparagus farmers in the U.S. at the expense of consumers of asparagus who happened to be living in the U.S.

    The harm they are sufferring is the same harm one of those polygamist cult leaders suffers when the young girls in the clan are no longer prevented from looking for husbands outside the clan.

    Let us rejoice! There are many harmful effects of the drug war, but at least we can enjoy cheap asparagus!

  4. I’m no fan of asparagus, but cutting a tariff is hardly something to bemoan.

  5. “The harm they are sufferring is the same harm one of those polygamist cult leaders suffers when the young girls in the clan are no longer prevented from looking for husbands outside the clan.”

    I’m betting you watched the last episode of Numb3rs, didn’t you? ‘fess up.

  6. I was wondering why asparagus was all from Peru all of a sudden.

    Asparagus, like most things, suffers from boiling. Roast those badboys with some butter and parmesian and they’re quite ok.

  7. Does this mean we have to start smoking asparagus to get the coca ban lifted?

  8. Speaking of things that give you pleasure and joy: I’m surprised that you libertarians here didn’t bother to comment on the fact that Bangor, ME has banned smoking in private cars yesterday.

  9. Are there any Peruvians here?

    Well of course their requests for subsidies was not Peruvian in and of it is as it were the United States government would never have if the president, our president, had not and as far as I know that’s the way it will always be. Is that clear?

  10. This blog post doesn’t make much sense – if lifting a tariff is a good thing, then you have a positive “unforeseen consequence” of the drug war, correct?

    Remember, people being put out of business is a good thing if the market does it.

  11. Boy, it took some pretty remarkable gymnastics, but you did it, you spun this into a bad outcome of the drug war. Really, the story here should be “Unintended GOOD outcome of the hated war on drugs!!” I mean, free trade is either good or bad. It doesn’t matter what the motivation is. But hey, we can’t let REASON get in the way of our hatred of the drug war.

  12. I grow asparagus. It’s easy. You stick it in the ground and then once it matures, you harvest it a couple of times a year, pretty much for ever. I have a hard time seing how removing the tarrif would give an unfair advantage to Peruvian farmers, who’s techniques are no different. Please explain.

  13. Even a goat rope as as insane as the war on drugs is bound to cause an occasional “good thing.” I think Nick’s slouched-in-a-leather-jacket-Devil-may-care point is that these infrequent “good things” are complete and total accidents… sort of like, the herd of elephants that just destroyed my house also managed to kick out that old stump in the backyard.

  14. Any market-oriented measure (e.g. freer trade in vegetables) that reduces the importance of a black market in the Andes is A Good Thing.

  15. I’m with Aresen. I’ll pass on the green spears. Yuck, blech, ptui! I’d rather they be outlawed than the drugs. But, seriously, if a tariff falls, I say “yea!”

    Kevin

  16. Even a goat rope as as insane as the war on drugs is bound to cause an occasional “good thing.” I think Nick’s slouched-in-a-leather-jacket-Devil-may-care point is that these infrequent “good things” are complete and total accidents… sort of like, the herd of elephants that just destroyed my house also managed to kick out that old stump in the backyard.

    The war on drugs keeps people from using drugs to at least some degree, which is a good thing.

    Whether it’s worth the cost is another story, but it’s difficult to prove either way.

  17. The post doesn’t make clear if Peruvian farmers are being subsidized to grow asparagus? (which is yummy fresh and uncooked on salads)

    Why would they just switch from Coca which I’d presume is more profitable unless bribed/threatened into it?

  18. Asparagus! Gaahh! Hate the stuff.

    I’m no fan of asparagus

    Why no love for asparagus?

    Like the man says: “My greatest pleasure was the asparagus, bathed in ultramarine and pink and whose spears, delicately brushed in mauve and azure, fade imperceptibly to the base of the stalk – still soiled with the earth of their bed – through iridescences that are not of this world. It seemed to me that these celestial nuances betrayed the delicious creatures that had amused themselves by becoming vegetables and which, through the disguise of their firm, edible flesh, gave a glimpse in these dawn-born colors, these rainbow sketches, this extinction of blue evenings, of the precious essence that I would still recognize when, all night following a dinner where I had eaten them, they played in their crude, poetic farces, like one of Shakespeare’s fairies, at changing my chamberpot into a bottle of perfume.”

  19. Why would they just switch from Coca which I’d presume is more profitable unless bribed/threatened into it?

    Less risk? Better to have a lower but safe income than a higher income that could be disrupted by the law at any time?

    And the fall of a trade barrier raises the value of the asparagus crop.

  20. Farmer Hank:

    I would suspect we tend to think of these kinds of market adjustments in terms of industries and winners & losers, when it’s more subtle than that. I doubt there are thousands of asparagus farmers sitting on roadsides in Washington trying to get pennies on the dollar for their previously valuable produce. Instead, very subtle differences in costs made the asparagus slightly less profitable, and led them to convert acreage to marginally more profitable crop. The drop in acreage of 70% seems harsh, but for each individual producer, the change was probably a decision that reacted to very small changes in context, and had relatively small effects on the farmers. There are probably some major effects on suppliers who specifically supported asparagus farming in some way, but for the producers, changes in profit margins of just a few percent could have made dozens of alternative crops preferable to asparagus.

  21. “The war on drugs keeps people from using drugs to at least some degree, which is a good thing.”

    Why? Some people are able to use drugs in moderation and function normally, work, pay taxes, walk the dog, etc. I simply don’t buy that drug usage is a de facto evil and that any deterrence is therefore good.

  22. Great, now when drug smugglers have to take urine tests their piss will smell awful. Serves the drug testing drones right.

  23. You have to wonder how US bureaucrats choose US asparagus farmers to drive out of business.

    I can imagine the DEA meeting with all the big farm lobbyists and noticed no from from Big Asparagus was in the room.

    There is a reason it wasn’t cotton.

  24. “Why no love for asparagus?”

    Mainly because I am among the portion of the population [can’t remember the percentage] who becomes violently ill when exposed to aspargame [sp?], the chemical in asparagus which makes one’s pee smell.

  25. Washington state’s minumum wage, which is higher than the Federal government’s minumum, is also partly responsible for our farmers ripping the plants out of the ground. There is no mechanized way to harvest asparagus and it’s not woth paying someone $7.93 an hour to pick it.

    I know joe doesn’t think raising the minimum wage curtails the number of jobs, but in this case it was only some migrant Mexican farmworkers who lost their jobs. As for the farmers, eh, let them grow cake. (wheat prices are going up.)

  26. Spur,
    John Ashcroft helped make that decision. Asparagus is much too phallic looking to be a good American vegetable.

  27. StopTheDrugWar.org takes no position on matters such as free trade, and I hope my post remained sufficiently agnostic on that issue. For what it’s worth, our office is practically wall-papered with old copies of Reason.

  28. In the mid 90’s I was having lunch in Lima, Peru with an economist friend of mine. After a number of pisco sours and over some really unbelievable ceviche he told me that his big venture had become asparagus and that he had planted lots of acreage… Now this fellow was not coca grower. He was a Stanford Ph.D. who knew a good bet when he saw one.

  29. I’ll support free trade when we have free movement of people. Until then the only reason it’s cheaper to grow asparagus in Peru is because Peruvians are artificially restricted to Peru.

  30. This is the only chance I’ll ever get to share my one good asparagus recipe:

    Trim the ends off of one bunch of asparagus, either Peruvian or American.

    Heat oven to 400 degrees.

    Place a casserole or baking dish on the stovetop on low heat. Add the following:

    2 tlbsp vegetable oil
    1 tsp dark sesame oil
    One clove garlic, finely chopped
    1 tsp fresh ginger, grated (less if you’re not a ginger fan. Just enough for some heat)
    Pinch salt
    Red pepper flakes
    1 tsp honey (I usually just take the squeeze bottle and draw two cursive lower case l’s, about an inch tall. I know that’s not precise, but it doesn’t mess up a spoon, either.)
    1/4 cup tamari soy sauce

    Mix the sauce ingredients in the casserole dish until the honey melts. Add the asparagus, and

    1/3 cup sesame seeds.

    Put the casserole dish in the oven, turn off the burner, and roast for about 15 minutes or until browned.

  31. Oh, shoot. I hit “submit” instead of “preview.”

    Important note in the recipe, toss the asparagus in the sauce so that all stalks are thoroughly coated with sauce and sesame seeds, then put in the oven.

  32. My favorite:

    Steam stalks. Arrange flat in a shallow dish. Sprinkle with balsamic vinagar and shredded parmegian cheese.

    Easy, simple, and yummy. And remember: the funny pee smell is a feature, not a bug!

  33. Karen, mmmmmmm, that sounds excellent.

    I like asparagus with a good Hollandaise sauce, you know, one that will still a beating heart, mid beat.

  34. There is a reason it wasn’t cotton.

    Cotton is one of the most water intensive crops ever devised. That’s why they grow it in Bakersfield.

  35. Ending an agricultural tariff/subsidy/allotment
    without long advance warning and a taxpayer funded “buyout” would constitute an unconstitutional “taking” of property.Even with a costly reform and bailout the result would be an economically devastating loss in property value and a consequent loss in property tax collection.
    One of the primary functions of government is to protect existing business models and concentrations of wealth. Next you godless communists will propose even more disruptive public policy such as ending insurance subsidies for residential coastal property.
    Imagine what THAT would do to our local and state tax collection much less the solvency of banks.

  36. There was a paraquat scare in the late 70’s, when the herbacide was first being used on marajuana crops. This prompted many devious dope-fiends to place classified ads in local periodicals that offered free paraquat testing for anyone who would send them a sample of their stash.

    I happen to like asparagus, but given its short shelf-life, I won’t be setting up a test lab.

  37. Jozef,

    Apparently tobacco restrictions are not that important. The next gathering is in ‘tobacco free bar’ DC, rather than right next door in tobacco friendly Virginia.

  38. Yeah, yeah, free trade, tariffs, whatever. As “Bhh” stated though, please, for the love of all you hold sacred, don’t judge asparagus based on the heartless bastards who boil the love out of it.

    I don’t like boiled steak or boiled cookies either…

  39. “don’t like boiled steak or boiled cookies either…”

    there goes your gastronomical adventure trip through England, then…

  40. I don’t like boiled steak or boiled cookies either…

    What’s wrong with beef stew?

  41. TWC, Mmmmm, Hollandaise sauce . . . . .
    A good Hollandaise, and any good one would come with a warning from the American Society of Cardiologists, could make sawdust and lawn clippings palatable. Unfortuneately, although I have mastered souffles, cheesecakes, Bechamel, and beef bourganogne, I cannot for the life of me make Hollandaise. I end up with a lumpy goo, suitable for use as an industrial adhesive but not edible. I think I’m going to add this as a New Year’s Resolution. Next Christmas dinner, asparagus with Hollandaise!!

  42. Thousands of poor, northwestern farmers have lost their jobs. And all you people can think about is saving a nickel on asparagus.

  43. That is a bold face lie, ALittleLiberal. We are also thinking about the best ways to serve our cheap asparagus.

  44. Karen,
    I got my recipe from the Frugal Gourmet and am very successful with it. Unfortunately I don’t have it with me, it involves eggs (4, I think, they HAVE to be at room temperature), lime juice, tabasco, powdered mustard, salt and a stick of melted butter. The trick is to have everything in the blender and melt the butter just prior to it starting to burn (I wonder if clarified butter would work?), then when everything else is in the blender you pour the melted butter, it should thicken almost immediately.

  45. dead_elvis has the correct asparagus recipe, though I’d throw in some black pepper, too. And grated white truffles.

    Okay, just kidding about the truffles.

  46. Ooh, thanks, Karen; that sounds yummy.

    1 tsp honey (I usually just take the squeeze bottle and draw two cursive lower case l’s, about an inch tall. I know that’s not precise, but it doesn’t mess up a spoon, either.)

    If you use the teaspoon after measuring the sesame oil, it won’t stick.

    eggs (4, I think, they HAVE to be at room temperature)

    Dairy and especially eggs almost always work better at room temp.

  47. Just consider it a manditory maximum on aspargus production. To help curd the manditory minimums in place for drug offenders.

    After all if the Aspargus farmers aren’t willing to do their part to get rid of drugs why should anyone else.

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